Pooch power helps autistic youngster

THE dad of an autistic youngster has paid tribute to the power of dog-walking for boosting the health of his family as well as their pet pooch.
Thomas and pooch pal MarkyThomas and pooch pal Marky
Thomas and pooch pal Marky

Paul and Kim Fletcher, and their sons Thomas and William, have had support dog Marky, a Labrador/golden retriever cross, living and working with them for three years.

Marky came to the family, who live in South Anston, from national charity Support Dogs, which has its training centre in Sheffield, and provides dogs to help autistic children, and adults with epilepsy or a physical disability to live safer, more independent lives.

Paul's 11-year-old son Thomas has autism and one of Marky’s most important roles is keeping him safe on walks.

He said: “Myself and Marky go on the longer walks and Thomas comes on the shorter ones.

“Thomas likes to go on the fields round the back of our house, especially at sunset.”

The trio's favourite spots also include Anston Stones Wood and Rother Valley Country Park.

“It’s about just getting out and de-stressing, keeping your mind from what you’re doing,” said Paul, “and also the challenges of looking after a child with additional needs.

“It’s also good for Thomas physically – if we let him, he would just sit and watch telly.

“For Marky, he has his favourite dog – there is one in particular and he will know when he’s on the field. “

Support Dogs instructor Jemima McLanaghan said: “Going for walks helps dogs to de-stress and they can burn off some energy and just be a dog.

“Going around sniffing stuff also de-stresses them.”